The Bucs’ Super Bowl repeat hopes fell short in 2021, and injuries were a major reason why. Tampa Bay was hit especially hard at the wide receiver position, which led to what now looks like a crowded room entering the summer.
Of course, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin remain atop the team’s depth chart. Godwin is currently recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in December. But fresh off of signing a new three-year, $60 million deal, his role as the 1B to Evans’ 1A remains intact.
Wide receivers coach Kevin Garver said Tuesday that behind the Bucs’ top two receivers, the competition will be wide open for the remaining spots in the room. Russell Gage, Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Cyril Grayson, Jr., Scotty Miller and Jaelon Darden are among those in the mix. The recently-signed Gage, who is making $10 million per year, seems a safe bet to be WR3 this year.
“It’s open season. Really, competition across the board for all those guys,” Garver said. “They all got different talents and abilities and bring something different to the table. Really looking forward to the competition as this moves along.”
Garver: “You Can Never Have Enough Wide Receivers”
Bucs WR Breshad Perriman – Photo by: USA Today
No one has to tell the Bucs that receiver depth can be tested over the course of a season. In the late stages of 2019, injuries to Evans and Godwin left the receiving corps bare. That led to the emergence of Perriman, who posted three straight 100-yard games to end that season.
Then, after a relatively healthy 2020 season, Tampa Bay had to tap into its depth again in 2021. Godwin’s injury and Antonio Brown’s outburst and subsequent release opened the door for Grayson. He made big plays down the stretch, but by the postseason, both he and Perriman were sidelined with injuries.
Garver said Tuesday that the Bucs know they can never have enough talent in the room, especially given what they experienced in recent years.
“It is the ‘next man up’ mentality for us for sure,” Garver said. “You never know when those injuries are gonna arise and you’ve got to have enough talent in there to line up and win week to week.”
The good news is, the Bucs have a lot of talented receivers vying for those open spots behind Evans and Godwin. Tampa Bay added three more as undrafted free agents, including Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns and Utah State’s Deven Thompkins. Sterns led the FBS with 150 catches for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns. Thompkins was second with 102 receptions for 1,704 yards and 10 TDs.
Garver said the team has a lot of depth, and each guy needs to approach the competition with the right mindset.
“Those guys are fighting every day,” he said. “They’re fighting for a job from the top to the bottom, and that’s got to be the mindset.”
Offseason Program To Be Key For Gage
New Bucs WR Russell Gage and S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs made a big addition to their receiving group in March, signing Gage, the former Falcons standout. The 2018 sixth-round pick was especially dangerous against Tampa Bay the last two years, posting 30 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns over four games.
“Russ is a great addition to the room for us. Glad to have him on our team,” Garver said Tuesday. “Obviously, [we’ve] been going against him the last couple of years and [he] has really put together two productive years in Atlanta. So, I think that the proof is kinda in the pudding with him.”‘
While Gage is expected to be the team’s No. 3 receiver this fall, Garver said the offseason program – and specifically phase two practices – will be key for getting him up to speed.
“I think the biggest thing for him is coming in and learning a new offense and learning terminology,” Garver said. “Learning how we run our routes and the ins and outs to it. Get on the same page with Tom [Brady]. I think those things are going to be big for him.”